Friends. Allies. We all need them.
For my kiddos from an orphanage background, the drive for peer friendships and allies is possibly even stronger in them as well as more difficult for them. The elements of trust and empathy (ability to understand another person’s perspective) have been missing to a large degree for some of them. Add in additional delays in social skills and the need for allies, either within the family or outside can come to have a lot of anxiety attached because of the deep fear of rejection that has been imprinted on them from a young age. As they reach adolescence it gets even more complex.
The need for an ally is so strong at times that (1) they may repel an alliance by going overboard (with hugs for instance); (2) they may self-sabotage from fear of getting too close or getting rejected; (3) they may be willing to “do anything” for this relationship, leading to endangering themselves and/or others.
Helping them navigate the need for friendship and find an ally (or preferably a few) may take more work. Throw in mistrust of parents or adults in general and it can be even trickier. What many children learn through trial and error may need to be shown more overtly. At the same time, they may need help to them un-learn harmful patterns of thinking and behavior. Establish clear boundaries early on as a given, not as a punishment or judgment on their new friend. (Example: “We don’t entertain non-family friends in the bedrooms.” It has nothing to do with this friend or what their family allows. It has nothing to do with right or wrong.) Save the rationale for another time. It will be easier for them to learn from an objective stance than when embroiled in the struggle to hang out with their friend behind closed doors in this example.
Show rather than tell. Showing our kids through our own relationships the basics as well as the more complex aspects of having a deep friendship, an ally is the way they may learn best. This will take intentionally pointing out the basics, such as what we are thinking and why we do this and that in a way that seems less teach-y and more casual.
Especially in adolescence adults may be seen as unreliable. It’s up to us to show them how relationships can be forged and maintained through thick and thin. Talk about how we are doing in our own relationships, about our feelings and how we interpret the other person’s feelings in an effort to understand, if not agree, and about our commitment and efforts to move forward.
Our kids need to know: How do you show acceptance of the other person, even in the midst of disagreement or disappointment? How do you find an ally – – be a good ally. Accept others. Show them that you accept them and understand that they might have different wants/needs/opinions/beliefs than you and that’s ok.
Proverbs 18:24 New King James Version (NKJV)
“A man who has friends must himself be friendly,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
In adolescence, it seems kids may go backward. They seem often to be toddlers in the bodies of teens. Rather than thinking of them as young adults (“you should be able to . . .”), perhaps in the emotional/social area we can understand them as large toddlers (“I understand how you feel; let’s think about what you can do next; I can think of these options – can you think of anything else?”) Having a long-range view can also help our parenting mindset as we navigate emotional flare-ups of our kids. The road to maturity is a long one. And take care to take care of your other relationships. They are learning from you.
Real life is often emotional and kid’s from hard places often have overwhelming emotions. As a parent, I want to help my children learn to use positive coping skills and give them helpful tools. We have begun using some fantastic natural products in our family that make a big difference in helping kids cope with overwhelming emotions, to manage and focus.
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